Protein, protein, protein.
We preach the benefits nonstop as an integral part of any lean physique. For your own personal health, and for the overall health of the planet, you should be eating more insects.
This isn’t meant as a provocative, theoretical idea. It’s a serious solution to the increasingly pressing problems of global warming and animal welfare — and a practical way of adding low-fat protein to your diet. The UN has advocated eating insects for these very legitimate reasons, and it’s something two billion or so people around the world have done for centuries.
Eating bugs isn’t a new concept. 80% of the world—and well over 2 billion people—already eat more than 1,900 different types of bugs, we just don’t in the western world. 23 It’s so common and, well, normal elsewhere that the UN released a massive 200-page paper back in 2013 urging people to embrace the idea, or at least entertain it.
But, what’s suddenly making crickets so en vogue as a food source and protein option?
Ding, ding, ding. It all boils down to one key word: sustainability.
- Here’s why you shouldn’t be grossed out by the idea — and why you should consider increasing your insect intake.
Insects are more sustainable and ethical than chicken, pork, or beef.
Chingrit_thot Chingrit thot (จิ้งหรีดทอด), a Thai deep-fried cricket dish. (takeaway)
Put simply, our increasing reliance on factory-farmed meat is killing the planet.
Growing grain and then feeding it to animals so we can eat them — the way the majority of meat is produced nowadays — is incredibly inefficient. Between the carbon dioxide emitted as a result of growing grain and the methane burps emitted by cows as they digest it, it’s estimated that raising livestock generates about 18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions.
Studies have found that raising insects like meal worms and crickets for food, on the other hand, is much more environmentally benign, because we don’t need to clear nearly as much land to raise them, they’re cold-blooded (so require less feed per unit of body weight to sustain themselves), and we can consume their entire bodies, wasting little flesh.
Insect Efficiency Chart
Because we can grind crickets into flour, exoskeletons and all, we can convert 80%
As a result, the difference in greenhouse gas emissions between producing insects versus conventional meat is huge. This graph, from the UN report, shows the emissions that result from producing a kilogram of pork and beef, compared to a kilogram of insect meat:
Because demand for meat is rising around the world, livestock production is going to become an increasingly big reason why the planet is warming — unless we find an alternative. Like insects.
2. Insects are a highly nutritious protein source.
It turns out that pound for pound, eating insects like crickets and meal worms (larvae that later turn into beetles) provides similar levels of fat and protein to conventional meats like beef, chicken, and fish.
Here’s some data, featured in Daniella Martin’s new book Edible:
These insects also have much higher levels of nutrients like calcium, iron, and zinc, partly because we can eat them ground into a fine powder, exoskeletons and all:
These insects are also good sources of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that’s barely found in any plant-based foods (and thus can be difficult for vegans to come by).
Of course, there are other alternate protein sources besides meat, but they each have their own nutritional problems. Most nuts and legumes lack one or more of the nine amino acids our bodies need. Eating excessive amounts of soy — the raw ingredient for tofu, tempeh, and all manner of fake meat products — may cause unfortunate side effects.
3. Eating insects is probably more ethical than eating meat
Lots of smart people disagree about the ethics of eating meat. Some argue that the pleasure we derive from eating meat outweighs the pain and suffering experienced by a cow or pig in captivity, and some say otherwise.
But few argue that these animals experience no suffering at all. Many scientists who’ve studied the insect nervous system, though, believe that they don’t feel pain. And while it is a matter of debate, even though who disagree would be hard-pressed to argue that insects can suffer as profoundly as a cow or pig.
Raising these insects for meat — instead of cows, pigs, and chickens — would reduce the total amount of suffering that results from our appetite for meat.
4. We already eat insects all the time
“A jar of peanut butter is permitted to contain dozens of tiny insect fragments.” Robin McNicoll.
The majority of processed foods you buy have tiny pieces of insect in them. The last jar of peanut butter you bought, for instance, may have had up to 50 insect fragments. A package of frozen broccoli may have up to 60 aphids per 100 grams, and the same volume of chocolate can have about 60 fragments of various insect species.
These figures are limits set by the FDA for food contamination — in their words, “levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans.”
It might come as a surprise that so many processed foods contain insects, but there’s a good reason: bugs inevitably infest virtually all food products we grow at low levels. Some experts estimate that, in total, we eat about one or two pounds of insects each year with our food.
These insects pose no health risks, and even the FDA’s limits are simply set for aesthetic reasons — in other words, so you don’t actually see the bugs mixed in to your food. That you’ve been eating them your entire life should tell you how much of a danger they present.